and see how far it goes…
Dr. John Kuehn, Historian extraordinaire and Staff member of the Army Command and General Staff College, has written a new book on the building of the fleet during the interwar period. USNI Blog has one of their trademark quick interviews/book reviews up and it’s got some interesting insight, the most important of which (I think) is this:
The U.S. Navy is basically in an interwar period right now-the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite what the pundits might say, are land-centric with the Navy in a supporting role. Our command of the sea for these operations is not in jeopardy. Although not constrained by a naval arms limitation treaty per se, we are constrained by budgets and a very uncertain security environment. So I think if naval officers want to understand the dynamics of building a fleet in an uncertain environment during peacetime and with declining budgets, then the interwar period and the General Board’s collaborative and collegial approach have much to teach us. The General Board had one advantage over us, they clearly identified the threat as Japan…which made war plans and design simpler (although not necessarily easy-see Clausewitz Book I chapter 7 on friction). The threat is nebulous…and dependent on policy. The old Mahanian solution of building against the most capable foreign navy does not work today because the U.S. Navy is clearly the most capable navy on the face of the earth right now, it wasn’t that way in 1919. In some sense our challenge is much greater than the General Board faced, but I think their basic approach, as reflected in my book, had much wisdom in it.
His last point is the most important. “The old Mahanian solution of building against the most capable foreign navy does not work today” I completely agree.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Big Navy(tm) is listening. Considering the economic intertwining going throughout throughout the world, there are many who consider China an opportunity, not a threat. However, this has not stopped the Navy from pointing to the Red Dragon in an effort to find a “near peer competitor” to justify funding.
There’s plenty of other reasons for building an efficient, effective fleet. Unfortunately, since the Navy benefited so much from the threat of the Soviet Union, we have no other paradigm in which to operate. Obviously, the only way to get funding for expensive ships is to point the finger at a faceless horde of *gasp* foreigners hell bent on world domination.
Instead of trying to generate an enemy, we should evaluate what’s going on in the world and define a workable, achievable naval strategy from the forces actually at play. If that means an entire fleet of submarines, LCS, and a few carriers, then so be it. But continuing on our current path is simply not the way. We spend our time trying to justify the legitimacy of the threat instead of on how our plan is the best way to handle the threat.